Posts filed under ‘Musings of a Midwestern Foodie’

Pray, Walk, Cook

roast with potatoesI have a new addiction. I discovered this on a recent Saturday at the lunch table. To be precisely accurate,  it’s really an old addiction, revisited and revised, but the awakened sense of craving is undeniable, and it reminds me of how comforting a simple, satisfying meal can be. This comes at a time when I could use the positive distraction of experimenting in the kitchen.

So what’s with that title? Like many of us, my mind is heavy with concern for those being  victimized by terrorists and corrupt rulers. Throw in concern for dear ones who face cancer, the plight of neighbors making the difficult transition to widowhood, and the daily struggle to meet the challenge of my husband’s gastroparesis – a complication of diabetes that baffles even the specialists.

To cap it all, the same entertainment industry which has done more to reduce lovemaking to a rude, crude, meaningless act than any other force on earth starts lecturing the rest of us about our responsibility to stem the tide of sexual assaults. Kinda’ like a swelling, hurricane-churned ocean belittling the meek, quavering levy for not holding it back.

I know I’ve addressed this subject here before, but I’ll be danged if the battle against anxiety never gets won for good. Not if you have half a brain and half a heart. Sometimes life just gets too loud. Taking a giant step back from news reports once in a while to sift out those problems we can actually do something about is a start. Beyond that, I have developed a formula that hasn’t failed me yet.

ACTION STEP NUMBER ONE: Pray. And by this I do not mean contemplate the universe to fortify your aura. Nor do I mean meditatively conjure positive mental images in order to suck good things into your spiritual vortex or cast hopeful wishes skyward toward “The Unknown Source” and hope She’s out there with her catcher’s mitt on, paying attention.

Not any of that. Just true, humbling, turn it all over in faith and beg for guidance and endurance from your Creator prayer. I appeal to the Lord to use me in combating evil and in offering comfort to the burdened. I plead for the stamina to hold onto Joy and Peace in a sin-mired world. And I ask for an emboldened will to fend off my quavering, as news of wars, and rumors of impending wars, bombard from all sides.

To quote one Pastor David Fuerstenau, “God answers with encouragement and strength, but not without our participation in the battle.”

ACTION STEP NUMBER TWO: Walk. Prevention magazine has recommended this cure for decades. Pumping the limbs and soaking up sunshine is incredibly therapeutic, both physically and psychologically. In crummy weather, pounding out a few miles on a treadmill or elliptical trainer fills the prescription. And for us multi-taskers, steps one and two often overlap. If my mind should stray to unpleasant thoughts while I’m puffing through a power hike, I mentally list all the things I am grateful for. Counted blessings add up to attitude adjustment, guaranteed. No anxiety drug could cover all these bases in a million years, and with only pleasant side-effects.

ACTION STEP NUMBER THREE: Cook. A friend and I once tried to pin down why cooking can be such an enriching endeavor. It’s not just that a growling stomach gets tamed and a primal need satisfied, because I get a sense of fulfillment whether I am cooking for myself or for a tableful of family members.

The chopping and sautéing. The alchemy of transforming unappealing raw ingredients into aromatic, fresh-from-the-oven offerings. The artistry of arranging avocado and orange slices on a bed of romaine with slices of red onion. Each has its own reward.

I suppose this is because food is so basic to life. A human essential, like the hunger for nurturing we all harbor. Caringly prepared, nutritionally-dense fare acknowledges both needs. I can buy a box of chocolates churned out in some factory somewhere. Or I can spend a few hours shopping for quality ingredients and forming them into dozens of homemade truffles for a treasured friend’s birthday. Both acts are thoughtful. But for the cooking-minded foodie, only one is an option.

So that’s my formula. The prayer part is easy, and some form of physical exertion can be adapted for virtually everyone.

As for the cooking, anyone I know can scramble a soft, fluffy egg and sprinkle it with grated cheddar, or slide a beef roast into a pan with a bit of wine and broth, along with a few potatoes and onions to slowly caramelize over the next few hours, perfuming the air with their magnificence.

And that rediscovered addiction? Peanut butter and braunschweiger. When my daring big brother insisted I try this combination as a child, I almost gagged in disbelief. Here he was, trying to punk me again. It was that Christmas tin of chocolate-covered ants all over again.

But eventually I accepted the challenge, and while it’s not a frequent indulgence, I haven’t ever regretted it. I had only gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread on hand last weekend to pair with a leftover chunk of liverwurst. So, in my own spurt of daring, I toasted two slices of that heavenly redolent stuff, gopped on some chunky peanut butter as a base, then layered on a few ounces of the creamy, mauve-colored meat paste. Soon I was issuing Homer Simpson-like gargles in my private moment of bliss. I’m still at a loss to describe the umami-ness of it.

Hey, I once scoffed myself, if you’ll recall. But accept the dare and you just might get a few satisfied sighs out of it. You can always prayer-walk off the calories later.

Advertisements

October 23, 2014 at 3:11 am Leave a comment

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Five

26227819-raw-pinapple-on-black-plate-isolated-over-white-backgroundThree a.m. The barking dogs and I are up for an hour. They allow me to sleep again between four and six-thirty. Maybe six hours total when all is said and done. I push myself through a DVD-assisted two-mile indoor “walk,” then a quick shower completes the process of propelling me into the morning.

Finally, a day when the schedule allows for a bowl of oatmeal. Topped with whole milk and generously polka-dotted with the luscious, purple-brown chopped fresh figs from yesterday’s trip to the open air market, this is a genuine treat. I fill a small plastic bowl twice, digging into the fruity grains with a flimsy spoon from the small kitchen of our rental casa. Real “silverware” doesn’t exist too many places anymore. Besides, a landlord wouldn’t want to risk having such valuable goods stashed into a renter’s suitcase, never to be seen again.

The assortment in these drawers is interesting in other ways as well. What looks like a funky potato masher, daughter-in-law Esther tells me, is actually meant for smooshing beans into a paste. And there are duplicates of some esoteric utensils, while other everyday essentials are missing. Loads of woven baskets and dozens of small bowls – for all the condiments that accompany traditional Mexican meal service? – but no large spoons for cooking and serving.

Our landlord lives in an attached property with a separate entrance, so some of these kitchen mysteries we chalk up to cultural differences, and some to the whims of a property owner looking for a place to stow her own kitchen’s extras.

This morning, a short walk to the Instituto de Allende – a must-see for art lovers, by all recommendations. Here we see vast murals depicting the struggles of Ignacio Allende to gain independence from Spain, as well as folk art in many different mediums, and displays of gems and metals. But it is first and foremost a gallery, selling the works of local artists.

Unable to even consider coughing up the asking price for these contemporary pieces, and feeling awkwardly trapped when Jason enmeshes himself in conversation with a guitar-playing resident artiste, I slink into the shadows, and hide behind my lack of Spanish fluency. After much pacing and waiting, I rescue my stepson with the announcement that his father needs to takes his insulin and find a meal.

According to the site tripadvisor.com, “San Miguel de Allende is a museum in itself. The mix of indigenous cultures (toltecas, guamares, pames, chichimecas and otomies) and the Spanish who arrived in the 16th century is reflected in the architecture, where the colonial style is blended with ancestral and indigenous features.” This is true, yet the poetic description wraps itself around one of the reasons for my discomfiture here: Like viewing the ruins of ancient Rome and Athens, a visitor is fascinated for a time, bored after a while, and ultimately cannot imagine living among them. At least this visitor can’t.

By 1:30, we are back in the serene, well-kept coziness of our cool adobe casa, enjoying a lunch we could only imitate poorly back in Minnesota. I fry two fresh-from-the-farm eggs to basted perfection – a feat I can never seem to accomplish in non-vacation mode – and nestle them atop a split, toasted and buttered, slightly sweet multigrain disc of bread Esther picked up from a home baker during our trip to la Placita. Next to this I plop a small mound of homemade refried beans and a generous portion of cubed avocado, onion, and tomato salad. For dessert, one whole, fresh, sweet, perfect peeled and cubed mango. Ambrosial.

My stomach well satisfied and my thoughts floating on a cloud of postprandial drowsiness, I calmly dissect the growing uneasiness I feel whenever I set foot onto the street beyond our courtyard gate.

My aversion to this place is hard to quantify. There is an indescribable sense of the ambient odor of the city being odd, like the conglomerate scent of cooked cabbage, furniture polish, dankness, and Lysol haunting a gloomy fourth-floor aging apartment building hallway I once marched down as a child.

And walking the streets, I worry. Worry about the homeless animals and the hopeless beggars; about the patient but frightening drivers as they insinuate themselves into the flow of traffic with no yield signs to assist them. Worry about the pedestrians blithely trusting in the solid crosswalks of white paint, absent stop signs or semaphores to secure their right of way.

Then there was that breath-robbing realization that the cousins of Esther’s, whom we encounter as we walk in the dark from her place to our rental, actually live in the furniture-sparse, bare-floored hovel that I mistook for a storage unit. Or the tension-inducing thought that the frenzied, snarling mongrel who charges madly around the flat roof abutting her family compound might at any time misjudge and hurl himself off the unfenced second story surface onto an innocent passerby below.

A guilt-tinged refuge presents itself in the form of our own serene and cozy home base; the physical proximity of loved ones; and the gustatory delights of spit-barbecued chicken, garlic-roasted potatoes, fresh steamed broccoli, and succulent pineapple.

Is this perhaps the greatest threat posed by the prospect of living in San Miguel, that my lingering sense of being undeservedly blessed would become a constant niggling companion if I were to step permanently into a setting like the ones depicted on Child Fund International mailings? It doesn’t seem to bother the rich Canadians living above it all in gated hillside communities, or Johnny Depp, who is rumored to be building a grand home here.

But no. I inevitably return to the hard fact that being here, in general, makes me feel sad. Sad and isolated. It always comes back to that.

July 21, 2014 at 10:40 pm 2 comments

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Four

placita veggiesMy first name is Sue Anne – two words, no hyphen, no middle name; a challenge to computer forms world-wide. But when I was eight, some younger neighborhood kids dubbed me Susie, a nickname I loved. It was softer, more genial. And it resolved the problem of people calling me “Sue.”

When daughter-in-law Esther translated my English given name to “Susi” – pronounced with double sibilance, like Dr. Seuss, except with a “y” sound at the end – I was charmed by the sound of it whistling off the tip of her tongue. Here in Mexico, it is how I am introduced, and how I introduce myself to others. If only I could slough off this angst and recapture the child-like openness the Spanish version of my name suggests.

I have fallen into a new morning schedule here, with the indoor walking DVD and a few household and personal care routines evolving as necessary. Jason and Esther have moved into the second upstairs bedroom, since her long-vacated, inherited house is in need of repair. I do my bustling before others are about, and then settle into vacation mode with a book or glass of iced lemon water on the patio. This morning, we set out to walk to Esther’s favorite juice bar and land there about 11:30, not yet having eaten and craving a good brunch.

But this is a busy place, literally humming with activity and chatter. The menus, of course, are in Spanish. The wait staff, logically, speaks their native tongue, not mine. I am so hungry I can’t think straight, and the complicated business of having Esther translate my every question and the waiter’s every response makes me dizzy with confusion.

Jason speaks Spanish, as does Jack. They are also less neurotic about what they put into their stomachs, and easily find a menu item that appeals. This is a sandwich shop which specializes in custom-blended drinks of whatever combination the diner selects. More decisions, more anxiety, more need for translation.

I finally blurt out a selection, because everyone else is waiting, then realize I have misspoken. More embarrassment and stomach-clenching tension, as Esther scrambles to cancel my order, and I surrender to the role of famished martyrdom rather than trying to join the group in their enjoyment of a meal.

What a fool I feel. It is the language thing. It is the being off-schedule and not having eaten breakfast thing. It is my torment over being the only one in the party who cannot envision myself living happily in remote San Miguel, with its low taxes, laid-back lifestyle, and virtually perfect climate. It is the cacophonous level of noise surrounding us. All these things come together like a tornado in my gut. I could sob out loud if I weren’t so self-conscious about making even more of a scene than I already have.

Down the stairs. Step outside. Gulp in a few breaths of fresh air, as cars rattle by on the busy thoroughfare outside the restaurant. Dear God, what is wrong with me? Am I four years old, for Pete’s sake? Do other adults have this breath-robbing reaction to alien environments, like a flopping fish having been yanked from familiar waters? I need to eat, and I need not to cause stress for my fellow travelers. Get a grip.

Back inside, I finally sort out my swirling thoughts and manage to convey, through Esther, a new, well-thought-out order to our saintly waiter, who patiently jots down my wishes as if I were a perfectly sane and reasonable new arrival whom he has just set eyes on for the first time.

Within minutes, I am again a part of the chatty group, and my bad behavior has been rewarded with a plate of hot and oozy ham and Swiss quesadilla with avocado and tomato on the side and a blenderful (really; brought right to the table with a tall milkshake glass which it will fill twice) of orange, papaya, strawberry, carrot, and guava fruit, swirled into the most heavenly of smoothies one could imagine. From internal chaos, to blissful ecstasy. The transformative power of panic-driven prayer and a good meal.

La Placita: plaza; piazza; public square; marketplace; shopping area. A fifteen-minute cab ride deposits us across the street from this weekly extravaganza of buying and selling. “Placita Grande” says it better. The place is enormous, and shoppers can fill almost every need here, as they mill around in a scene reminiscent of a Marrakesh Market or Istanbul Bazaar.

It is 80˚ and windy. Dusty air and the smell of frying fish waft in gusty bursts, taunting the nostrils, as a steady din of rapid-fire Spanish, a megaphone-wielding evangelist, and roving musicians compete for the available sound waves. Amidst it all, cheery vendors serve up plates of oil-puddled pizza slices topped with mounds of French fries, accompanied by the ultra-sweet Mexican version of Coke and soon to be followed by a slab of the milky dessert called Pastel de Tres Leches, or perhaps a pillowy, deep-fried sopapilla. It is no wonder that this population, like my own, is experiencing a diabetes epidemic.

As we elbow our way through the dense clusters of humanity, we pass a guitar-playing father and his singing daughter, her eyes, liquid chocolate; her hand timidly offering a Styrofoam cup to receive tokens of appreciation in the form of peso coins, or perhaps even paper, from a “rich” American tourist. More heart-rending is the stooped beggar with one crippled foot splayed out in a brace, his sad, weary stare vacantly searching the distance as he hobbles past mostly unmoved shoppers, eager to get something more tangible than the satisfaction of a generous heart from their next expenditure.

And there is such an abundance of opportunities to expend. Canopied stalls stretch for blocks in both directions, table after table of caps, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, boots and shoes; dietary supplements and folk remedies; fresh fruit, fish, meat, beans, peppers, handmade candies, seasoned roasted nuts, cookies and cakes, farm-grown vegetables, breads, and fruit-laden pastries. Esther buys a baggie of six pickled pig’s feet floating eerily in clear brine along with spices and raw onion rings, and tucks it away from Jason’s view. “He doesn’t like,” she says. (How do we say “simpatico” in Spanish?)

Back to our casita to unpack the day’s purchases, then it’s off on foot to explore the sprawling, ancient Parqué Guadiana. All this walking is good, once you learn to watch your step very carefully and to seek out the most civilized routes. Dinner is a taco salad at a restaurant operated by one of the many Canadian transplants in this ten percent expatriate community, and then back to our rental house to unwind in the flower-scented peace of the courtyard and watch the sun drop beyond the wall into a saffron-colored strata of clouds.

Around 9:00 p.m. my husband and I are puzzled to hear a plaintive voice crying out in the darkened street. “He is selling grilled corn on the cob,” says Esther. “This is very common here.” The mournful sound becomes enchanting with her explanation, a perfect metaphor for this enigmatic place.

June 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

Susi’s Mexican Adventure – Day Two

SMA Rental CourtyardI awake at 5:00 a.m. to the sound distant fireworks and the neighbor’s barking dogs, after eight mostly-uninterrupted hours of replenishing sleep. We loll around a bit, then sit in our sunny courtyard drinking tea as Jack breakfasts on amaranth cookies and oaxaca, the Mexican string cheese, from the corner Oxo store – a sort of south of the border 7-11.

At 11:00, as the temperature climbs to 90˚, we head out for Centro, the downtown district. We’ve been invited to noon brunch by former Minnesota residents we connected with through a mutual acquaintance back home. A chance to ask all the questions I’ve been jotting down over the past few months and get a feel for what they love about this place.

This should be a 20 minute brisk walk, but steep pathways make it tough on Jack’s unaccustomed legs. With frequent rest stops as I march ahead to scout things out, we finally reach the main town square 45 minutes later. Here, the streets are often not labeled; the residences and shops are often not numbered. We ask four different people for help and get four different sets of directions, eventually wandering onto the right block of conjoined structures.

At 12:03, we knock on what we deduce must be the door we are looking for. Success! This is a home different from any I have ever entered. Darker than I expected, in spite of the multiple courtyards; smaller rooms than I expected, because of the multiple courtyards. More of that closed-off feeling that results from the outdoor areas being surrounded by house walls or solid fences.

Our hostess serves a delicious ham and egg, cheese, and vegetable casserole, warm from the oven. And the fruit. Makes a person misty-eyed, senses awakened to the honeyed juices of uber-fresh, perfectly ripened local pineapple, cantaloupe, mango, raspberries.

I pull out my list of questions, some already answered by the five American ex-pats assembled around the table with us: Medicare doesn’t work here, but health care is incredibly inexpensive; utility costs are high, but usage is very low; mail service is utterly unreliable and telephone service only slightly more dependable.

And the deal-breaker question for me: Bullfighting. Repulsed by the thought of living in a country whose national pastime involves animal torture, but also knowing the flaws in my own culture, I might consider sequestering myself in an enclave that has rejected this inhumane practice. Does San Miguel have, as I had heard, a moratorium on bullfighting? No; they do not, our hostess explains with casual lack of concern. The arena is just at the edge of the city. My heart drops, thud, into the pit of my belly. Acid creeps over my tongue. I pop another cube of succulent cantaloupe into my mouth, but the bitter taste remains.

And stray animals. We have seen several malnourished dogs wandering the streets already. Now our hostess introduces us to the two cats they rescued after someone had dumped a litter of kittens, in a bag, in the street. I may forfeit my lovely lunch right here and now. I know this stuff happens, to some extent, everywhere. But there are usually organized efforts to fight it; not so, it seems, in San Miguel de Allende.

In spite of liberal sunscreen application, my neck is burned a sunset pink by the time we’ve made our way to daughter-in-law Esther’s house late afternoon, a stop on our way out to her brother’s ranch for a cookout this evening. Wrong shoes, meandering routes, blistered feet.

Esther’s family compound, a multi-level series of flat-roofed, concrete buildings left to her and her siblings by her parents, begins curbside and extends five-or-six residences deep, one rectangle after another of grey slab walls, floors, ceilings.

We sip cautiously at the tap water offered to us by her brother and his wife, meet numerous children, cousins, friends, and neighbors who move in and out of the area as we walk and talk, discussing possible improvements Esther plans to make to her place.

Eventually, her brother’s pickup truck sputters up curbside to collect us – two in the forward cab; Jack and me, facing each other, in pop-up seats behind the driver; and six or seven people piled into the open bed of the truck. It’s okay, stepson Jason assures me. We do it all the time here.

Still, I am closing my eyes. Nudge me when we get there. But this is too noisy and bumpy a ride to nap through, as the truck rattles and gasps its way, mostly empty milk and juice bottles discharging from under the seats like flipper-powered pinballs in an arcade game at every corner. A spider web windshield crack partially obscures the driver’s line of sight and a piece of transported furniture blocks our view of the truck bed behind us, but the crew in back is having a raucous good time. Closing my eyes again.

The “ranch” is a cactus farm. Today the small concrete-walled, one-room main building holds a dozen females aged six to eighty-six. Smiling, laughing. Slapping out homemade tortillas in quick succession on a huge homemade metal cooking oval over a butane-fueled cook stove. No English here, but many handshakes and warm greetings. More laughter, as we try to mentally register all the new names and faces. Once we leave the building we do not see the “cooks” again.

There is another small unattached concrete building housing a toilet, with a water spigot outside to accommodate hygiene. Esther’s brother leaves to go pick up a second load of attendees, but soon her cell phone rings. He has not made it back to his house before the truck breaks down. The second group will not be coming.

Carne asada on the grill. Roasted nopales cactus leaves and giant spring onions. Warm homemade tortillas. Charred corn on the cob, fresh salsa, barbecued lamb. Semi-chilled beers from the cooler and many jokes about Jason’s acquired appreciation for tequila.

Riding home, we wedge four people into the back seat of some Juan’s tiny 1998 Chrysler Concorde, and I work in some quality prayer time. Back at our rental, and wishing I had learned a bit of Spanish last month as I promised myself I would, I nod off over my book around 10:00, smiling over Esther’s carrying of toilet paper to the “ranch,” and her jests about the bathroom there being a tree, and the leaves, “our Charmin.” It is good to be with family, even if you don’t speak the same language.

May 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Please Do Try This At Home

ducks_207635April 20, 2014, was as close to perfect as a day could be. Having recently read the sad news that some pastors in our sister congregations in India have been viciously attacked at their own doorsteps by militant Hindu activists, we were blessed to gather, unmolested, with our church family to celebrate Christ’s astounding victory over death, and His promise to comfort those persecuted in His name.

Once back at home, the sunny day waxed glorious, reaching upper-70s temperatures we haven’t seen for many cold and gloomy months. A leisurely dog walk; a relaxed late breakfast with my hubby; the luxury of a brief, restorative early afternoon nap.

Post-nap, I bustled to prep my contributions to this year’s Easter dinner. To accompany our niece’s baked ham dinner, I would make the roasted asparagus and sweet peppers sprinkled with feta cheese and chopped pistachios I’ve described here before. (With pine nuts now up to $64.00 a pound, the pistachios were a serendipitous and delicious adaptation to the original dish. I may never do the pignolis version again!)

Next, I had volunteered roasted, glazed carrots. I didn’t want anything too rich or sweet. But this wasn’t a time to skimp on the taste factor, either. There was some good quality, organic, 100% apple juice languishing in the back of my refrigerator. Mixed with a number of on-hand ingredients that grabbed my attention as I trolled through the pantry, it translated to a crowd-pleasing, rave-inducing side which I had actually had the foresight to jot down the recipe for as I was concocting it. Here, I offer this successful experiment for your eating pleasure in your own home kitchen.

Our Easter Sunday wrapped up with a relaxed gathering of dear ones for a great meal at the home of an amazing young woman – wife, mother of two, fulltime senior paralegal, and final-year law school student – who still manages to be one of the most poised and gracious hostesses I’ve ever encountered.

Sitting on a sunny deck, watching “the guys” play their version of backyard baseball, with the family dog tirelessly chasing after the batted wiffle ball and the toddler making frequent passes through left field towing his little red wagon. How perfect is that?

For the family-friendly roasted carrots you’ll need…

For each two-pound bag of peeled carrots, cut into 2″ chunks:

1 TB butter 1/2 C apple juice or cider
1/2 red onion, sliced thin 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 1/2 tsp dried dill flakes

In a glass measuring cup, combine the apple juice and butter. Microwave just until butter is melted. Stir the garlic powder and spice into the butter/juice mixture. Arrange carrots in a foil-lined sheet cake pan and pour liquid over all, tossing to distribute. Sprinkle with dill flakes. Bake at 400˚ for 30-40 minutes, or until fork tender.

With gray skies and a 48˚ wind-rattled atmosphere, today’s weather has dipped back into yucky territory – a “change for the wetter’ as our local weather pundit puts it. But if I close my eyes, I can recapture the feel of that sun-soaked deck with its view of two ducks landing in the neighbor’s backyard pond. Ah, Minnesota. It’s good for the imagination, if not the arthritis.

April 23, 2014 at 6:18 pm 1 comment

Winter Redux

winter reduxI’m about to repeat myself. Forgive me. I know I’ve nattered on in the past about the unfortunate confluence of the cold weather appetite bump and the human hibernation instinct.

But when day after day, the sky forms a dome of grey flannel capping a blanket of white velvet below, with only the stark silhouettes of bare trees to break up the monochrome landscape; and when the local climatologist declares this the ninth coldest winter since 1888; and when you’ve been off your feet with flu and cold symptoms more in the past two months than in the past five years; and when it’s more appealing to confine yourself to a warm kitchen than to venture outside and risk literal frostbite…

Well, as I said, forgive me. But my dog won’t even get out and exercise her little legs in this stuff.

I must say I did learn a lot about minimalist living while staring at the ceiling with a case of H1N1 that left me too dizzy to even prop myself up in chair. Helpful survivalist junk like…it’s possible to make a simple chicken and rice soup with one eye open and one hand on the counter top for balance; cats make great lap warmers and dogs will join you for a nap absolutely any time, day or night; the household and the world go limping along just fine without my input; virtually anything on a to-do list can be rescheduled; and my fingernails grow and my grocery bill shrinks when I’m not prepping and cleaning up after meals three times a day, every day. You know. Essentials like that.

But once you’re upright again and the food cravings come raging back, some creative if simplified menus based on what’s already on hand help keep a person distracted from the stretch of the Yukon just outside her living room window. Marinate and roast. That’s been my theme for evening meals lately. Marinades can infuse a richness without a lot of fat and minus the fussiness and excess of bread crumbs or cheesy toppings. Appetite appeased, conscience clear.

Then there are the must-eats of stew, soup, or chili. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself with a tummy full of warm turkey soup made from the frozen carcass of the Christmas turkey. Throw some chopped onion, celery, and fresh sage in with that homemade turkey stock and the meat scraps gleaned from the simmering bones. And finally, some brown rice and sliced carrots for the last hour or so of cooking, plus a splash of evaporated skim milk stirred in at the very end. A sure-fire cabin fever cure-all.

My pauper’s pantry chicken chili came about when I grabbed two 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes with celery and bell peppers, a tablespoon of dehydrated onion, a teaspoon of Jamaican jerk seasoning, a 13 ounce can of chicken breast with juices, and a 15 ounce can of beans – kidney, white beans, cannellini; whatever is handy and appealing. Salt and pepper to taste, simmer for one or two hours, and dig in.

The oh-so-simple marinades follow below. And for today’s final offering, a tasty “crabmeat” pizza which makes excellent use of the lumpy imitation crustacean-esque product that comes vacuum-packed and refrigerated at your local grocery store. Don’t mock it ’til you’ve fried it. Or something like that.

And do at least try to keep your stomach preoccupied and your body well nourished until this national disaster of a winter has given way to more reasonable trends. (Anybody know when the next Global Warming Summit is scheduled? We could use the hot air about now.)

For one pound of roasted chicken thighs, you might try one of these marinades before baking the boneless, skinless pieces for 45 minutes at 350°F, or until the internal temperature reads 170°. Turn them at the mid-way point to keep them moistened, and cover baking pans with foil for most of the baking time, if your oven tends to run hot, like mine.

I always mix my marinade right in the pan, then turn the chicken or chops a few times if I’ve planned far enough ahead to refrigerate them for several hours before roasting. (One less dish to wash is never a bad thing.) More likely scenario: toss meat in marinade right before baking. I understand that it’s always a good idea to let cold meat come to room temperature before roasting or cooking, Makes for more predictable cooking times.

Marinade I
2 TB soy sauce 2 TB red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 C water, as needed tiny pinch of sugar

Marinade II
1 TB olive oil 1 TB soy sauce
4 tsp tahini 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ginger 2 TB chicken broth

For four easy weeknight baked pork chops, before you bake the bone-in meat at 350° for 30 minutes or until registering 145° on a meat thermometer, mix together and slather over them…

1 TB dry sherry 1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil 1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp Chinese five spice 1/4 C chicken or vegetable broth

For the pseudo seafood pizza I used a packaged whole grain pizza crust and topped it – in the following order, reading left-to-right – with…

3 TB yellow curry paste, smeared 6 large green olives, thinly sliced
1 pkg imitation crab meat, chopped 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2-1/2 oz shredded colby-jack cheese 1/2 oz crumbled cotija cheese

Bake according to crust instructions, cut yourself a slab for lunch, then sit back and imagine a tropical coastline vista. They do exist out there. Really.

February 28, 2014 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

October Creeps

16155286-autumn-trees-in-kensington-metro-park-michiganNo. I’m not referring to the misguided juveniles who egged our van a few years ago at about this time. Or the insecure punks who taped a naughty magazine fold-out to our front door a few Octobers before that. I am talking verb, not noun – as in the nature of this month of transition here in Paul Bunyan territory.

Junetober. That’s how our favorite local weather wag summed up the early, sun-blessed, 78 degree days of this tenth month of 2013. But with the calendar edging toward month eleven, the cold seeps in like frigid Lake Superior lapping at your timid bare toes.

Occember. That’s what I’m calling these current conditions, as the greedy, winterish nighttime hours begin to nibble at either end of the shortening days. It’s that skulking darkness that robs us of light both morning and evening that most affects my sense of emotional equilibrium. That, and the temperature bottoming out at 28 on yesterday’s morning walk.

With my energy level waning, the scale seems to have caught the creeping disease, as well. “Up three pounds since Monday? No way,” I argue with the frustratingly mute digital readout that stares back at me unblinkingly.

I blame a few things for this latter example of October creep. Weeks’ worth of feeding the tension born of caring for an ailing loved one, with altered routines and delayed mealtimes. Taco Bell’s introduction of the humongous Cantina Double Steak Quesadilla with chips and salsa.

But whatever the cause, the red flags are a-flappin’ in the cold autumn winds: It’s time to look to hearty, satisfying soups to stave off the cold weather appetite-ignition that can take over anybody’s best intentions – family health crises and ill-timed, 960 calorie fast food temptations aside.

With this in mind, last week I concocted from on-hand ingredients what turned out to be a lovely, stomach-filling, activity-fueling, body-warming pot of Lentil and Vegetable Soup with Organic Chicken and Apple Sausage.

I don’t go out of my way to buy organic. The jury seems to be locked in perpetual debate over the merits vs. the extra expense, and I am a penny-pincher by necessity, if not by nature. But those conservative spending habits led me to a discount grocery where bargains on almond milk and “casein-free chicken sausage with no fillers” can often be had for a good price. I think I have eight packages of it in my freezer right now. And a four pound bag of lentils on my cupboard shelf from the same shopping trip.

Ah, the wonder of the accidental recipe. Add some on-sale Chinese Five Spice for a sweet/savory nuance, some end-of-season summer squash, a few more always-on-hand ingredients, and I end up with a huge pot of dense, nutrient-rich soup which I’ll have to devour all by myself before it gets past its own “use by” date. Tough assignment, but I believe I can rise to the task. If you’d like to join me in this mission, the recipe follows.

Meanwhile, I am trying to resist a second steaming bowl of lentilly goodness, since that would likely push me right back up into double steak quesadilla calorie range – a risk I may just be willing to take if the sun doesn’t peek through those gray flannel clouds pretty darned soon here.

For the quick and easy soup assembly, line up:

2 C lentils
6 C water
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 yellow summer squash, chopped
2 large stalks celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice*
1 C chicken broth
12 oz chicken and apple sausage, sliced
salt to taste

Place lentils and water in a soup kettle and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add onion, squash, carrots, celery, broth (or 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon or cube chicken bouillon), seasonings, and chicken sausage. Bring mixture back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least another 30-45 minutes, or until carrots are tender.

This soup pairs quite nicely with a pan of homemade corn bread, corn muffins, or corn sticks, fresh and hot from the oven. My gang likes my reduced sugar version of the Quaker White Corn Meal recipe, baked in corn stick pans for the maximum in crispy, crunchy surfaces and edges:

1-1/4 C flour
3/4 C corn meal
2 TB sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 C skim milk
1/4 C canola oil
1 beaten egg

Heat oven to 400 and grease your preferred pan. Whisk dry ingredients together, beating out any lumps, then stir in milk, oil, and egg just until dry mixture is evenly moistened. Pour into prepared pan and bake to a golden brown – 20-25 minutes for 8-9″ square or round cake pan; 15-20 minutes for 12 muffins or 18 corn sticks.

Happy sloshing and noshing. And do stay warm out there.

*My bottle of Chinese Five Spice lists anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger as ingredients. I figure a small pinch each of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and perhaps crushed fennel seed would do nicely as a substitute.

October 24, 2013 at 4:46 pm 2 comments

Older Posts


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 282 other followers

About

Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

Have a taste and see what you think. If you like what we are serving up, please tell your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to stop by for a visit, too.

For automatic reminders of new posts, sign up for an Email Subscription, above.

Past and current posts.

July 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  
© Sue Anne W. Kirkham and www.yourrecipesforlife.com 2009-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Anne W. Kirkham and www.yourrecipesforlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.